BY ISAAC TERSOO AGBER
AFRICAN countries will soon begin toenjoy free movement of goods and persons with the aid of a new African Passport, a development that will usher in a new era of integration among African states with enormous benefits in view, thanks to the African Union.
But it appears the continent needs more than just a passport to drive its laudable “Agenda 2063,” launched at the 27th African Union Summit in Kigali recently. Reports have shown that the African continent has lost 40 per cent of its aviation market to foreign operators in less than 15 years, due to overstretched procrastination to implement a single African aviation market and open skies agreement that was unanimously decided in the year 2000.
In this regard, the passport will be useless if there is no free air connectivity among African nations. Therefore, in anticipation to achieving its lofty goals in the 2063 vision, the AU must recognise that regional integration is a key development priority for Africa.
This is because, the Agenda emphasizes the importance of success of rethinking the passion for Pan-Africanism, a sense of unity, self-reliance, integration and solidarity.
Among others, it aims to boost intra-African trade from 12 per cent to 45 per cent by 2045. During this time, Africa’s share of global trade is also expected to rise from 2 per cent to 12 per cent.
In addition, realizing continental integration through the improvement of business and economic achievements requires infrastructure development. The plan to connect African capitals via a continental high speed rail network is among such infrastructural plans to speed up integration and realize Agenda 2063. Further, the Yamoussoukro Declaration, signed in 1999 called for the liberalization of African aviation industry and aimed to establish a single African air transport market by avoiding market restrictions imposed by bilateral air service agreements.
The passport, being a symbolic move for integration among African states, free air connectivity will drive the motive to success. A combination of the twowould facilitate tourism, more trade, more transactions and business undertakings. It would also create great opportunities for the African aviation business to triumph as it eases intra-Africa travels.
As for tourism, a World Bank report titled “Tourism in Africa: Harnessing Tourism for Growth and Improved Livelihoods”revealed that tourism accounted directly or indirectly for one in every 20 jobs in Sub Saharan Africa in 2011, and is one of the few industries on the continent in which women are well represented as employees and managers.
The report examined the potential of African countries to improve and expand their tourism sector. It suggested that 33 of Sub Saharan Africa’s 48 countries currently have the capacity for tourism success through establishing strong political support for developing the industry and attracting increased private investment to help finance and sustain it.
In 2012, Africa attracted 33.8 million visitors, up from a low 6.7 million visitors in 1990, and its receipts from tourism for the same year amounted to over US$36 billion, or 2.8 percent of the region’s GDP.
In 2014, a total of 65.3 million international tourists visited the continent around 200,000 more than in 2013. Back in 1990, Africa welcomed just 17.4 million visitors from abroad. The sector has quadrupled in size in less than 25 years.
If the goals of the vision 2063 are feasible, tourism has the potential to accelerate Africa’s economic growth and job creation. It can also help accelerate the reforms needed to improve airline and road transport as well as other key infrastructure, besides raising the incomes of young men and women who form a high percentage of the job holders in the sector.
To achieve this target, African governments and the private sector must work together to address obstacles such as land access and visa regulations to expand tourism opportunities, transform business climates and energize job creation, especially for women and youth. The African Passport is the first move toward that path.
“Africa’s mountains, savannahs and rivers, and cultural events such as music, dance and festivals are far above the natural assets found in other regions,” said Iain Christie of the World Bank. According to her, with these natural attributes, tourism can play an enormous role in development. But to do so, it must be integrated into each country’s economy and government structure and be seen as a benefit by everyone.
More tourists would translate to more jobs, more investment opportunities and more money for the continent to embark on capital projects. All these are achievablewith the new African Passport and a viable open sky policy.